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Safety or Authenticity: Is it good to self censor?

October 2, 2008

For the past several months I’ve been experimenting with socialnetworking.  In the past, my online activity has been hidden behind a subterfuge of handles and anonymous comments.  However, three things conspired to draw me into the the vast arena of Web2.0.

First, my previous experience with CompuServe (back in the early 90s) and some recent experience with MySpace.  Next, I kept hearing about Twitter, in multiple venues, so decided to give it a try.  Finally, due to some illness in our home last year, I wasn’t able to get out as much as I’d like.  These three opportunities convinced me to dive in with both typing fingers – so-to-speak!

My first PC had a 4800 Baud modem and a free month of CompuServe.  On CompuServe, there were forums, chat rooms, IM, and a host of other sharing tools.  These were heady days, almost pre-Internet – at least before the tubes went fully public.  It wasn’t long before I’d upgraded my modem to 9600, then 14.4k, then 33.3k.  I learned the foundation of my tech experience dealing with those modems.

It wasn’t long before CompuServe was swallowed up by the first bubble and users were left to their own devious devices.  Socialnetworking has been a part of the Net from the beginning, and it never really went away, it has just gone through various permutations.

Twitter was the key for unlocking the world of 21st Century Socialnetworking.  Somehow, I connected with the right people and my network of friends took off!  Then, with my need to stay home, I found friendship and intelligent dialog online.  Through these connections, I revived my interest in blogging (I first blogged in 1997).  Also, various tools became a regular part of my explorations into the Internets.

Recently, I was bitten though.  Twice actually.  First, I thought I had a super-seekrit “leadership” blog, but it turns out it was not secret and was being widely read by the people I most was keeping it from.  I just needed a place to process, a place to get some limited feedback from my mentors and coaches, and a place to vent.  Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job in protecting that.

Today I was informed that people have been lurking on my Twitter stream and have been offended by some of my comments.  So, my first reaction was to lock down my Twitter stream and make it private.  This would involve shutting off the FaceBook link, the FriendFeed link, the Netvibes link, and the widget on one of my websites.  It would mean cutting off the identica stream, the Plurk posts, the Pownce posts, and the Jaiku, Tumblr, BrightKite, Shizzow, Kwippy, and Plaxo feeds.

As I think through this, I see another option.  Can you say, self-censorship?  This is really unappealing to me too.  I’ve been self-censoring my whole life.  I became an alcoholic trying to stop the self-censorship, and that didn’t turn out so hot.  So, I thought I found a venue where I could be real, authentic, and transparent.  But apparently this is hurtful to some.

What to do?  What to do?

What I’d like to do is invite the lurkers to put their lives on the line.  Join the conversation, participate, call me out when you disagree.  It is only through open and honest dialog that we can grow together.  Self-censorship nearly killed me the first time, I don’t ever want to go back to that state.

Here’s what I’ve learned though.  People would rather I be safe, than transparent.  To be safe, in this broken shell of a human, I’d have to self-censor.  So, does that make the “stuff” inside go away?  Nope.  It just stuffs it down deeper.  In my value system, I’d rather people share what’s on their hearts and be healthy, rather than stuff-it and be unhealthy.  I am opposed to pretense and facades.  I’m all about authenticity.

If I turn off my feed, stop tweeting, or self-censor, I will end up back in the cave.  The loss is that the 90% of good tweets will be lost with the few negative ones.  Is that worth the price?  I’d love to hear some feedback?

  1. October 3, 2008 12:23 am

    Hi Gary,

    It’s all about the balance and moderation in life, isn’t it? Some of us have had a hard time with that, but we have to learn to live that way (balanced, that is). It’s a lifelong task. I self sensor using a little concept I learned from friends several years ago: Do the next right thing. Not the next thing I want, not the next thing I think of (especially not that, heh). Also not the next correct or accurate statement. Being right is not just about being correct. I can be factually correct and still be completely in the wrong. So, while I am far from perfect (obviously), I strive to be “right” to myself and others each step of the way.

    It’s not as easy as it sounds some (okay, most) days. But it does cause me to delete what I type sometimes, before hitting “send” or “post.” I don’t often completely censor myself, but I do sometimes consider carefully my words and how a person who didn’t write them might interpret them.

    You’re a good guy. Everyone’s certainly got to recognize that. Feelings get hurt, and the real men make amends, work through it with the people who are willing, and become better people for it (or in some cases in spite of it).

    Sorry for the lecturing voice: Understand that it’s really self-directed more at me than anything, and so thanks for the opportunity to do some reflection here. I always appreciate your insights and thought-provoking posts. They make me a better person.

    Oh, and I need to learn to stop writing with so many darned parentheses. Let’s call that a minor character defect. 🙂


  2. October 3, 2008 10:53 am

    Gary, we all self-censor. People ask us for an opinion about clothing or hair style and want affirmation. They don’t want to hear that it makes them look fat or old. So we don’t them. We say it makes them great or young or vibrant or whatever. We’re protecting their feelings and letting them know they’re loved.

    Other times we self-censor because we don’t want to admit that we’re not perfect, that we’re still figuring things out, or that we hold opinions or do things that others might consider unacceptable. This self-censorship is not about protecting others, it’s about protecting ourselves. It’s more insidious because we still justify that we’re protecting others from the conflict that might occur. But we’re just fooling ourselves.

    Does that make it wrong to self-censor? I don’t think so. I don’t have to bare every thought or impulse or action just because I have a blog and a twitter account. Part of this journey we call life is learning how and when to disclose to others, who we can and should trust.

    I’m not “authentic” enough to tweet that my wife and I had a fight on the way to church and then paste on smiles to shake hands and say “fine” when asked how I am. Maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with church. We need to be more open and honest about our true condition. Yet it’s hard. Those who volunteer at church, even playing the piano, are expected to meet certain standards (at least in some eyes) and is authenticity really the battle we want to fight? I’m not there yet and may never be. I rationalize that this problem is as much with the church as with myself, but am only half convinced.

    With social networking, authenticity is even more difficult, or maybe it’s easier. Most of us have never met you, yet feel like we know you from your blog posts and tweets. We feel like we’re getting to know you. We come at this relationship with no expectations other than that you entertain us or make us think once in a while. It’s working.

    It’s when the “in real life” and “virtual” lives cross paths that difficulties arise. Those in real life don’t understand how or why we bare our lives online. It rocks their paradigm in ways they don’t understand. How dare you admit that or hang out with those people or do that?

    It’s a personal decision. What do you get from online sharing? Is it a self-discovery process that could just as well be done with a private diary? Is it an ego trip where you fool yourself into thinking that the world is interested when you get your drink and piece of free fruit from the cafeteria? Or is it a way of making friends in a new world and you’d no more censor yourself with us than you would with your friends in real life? After all, why would we be authentic with you if you’re not willing to do so with us?

    Maybe the real question is why would you be willing to share something online that you wouldn’t do in person?

    Questions only you can answer. Good luck! And I’m looking forward to reading your answers online. 😉


  3. October 3, 2008 12:59 pm

    Hi Gary,

    First, thanks for posting such an honest entry and allowing people to comment. I posted first on Brent’s blog entry based on his reply here. I won’t repeat what I said there, but some of it does apply.

    I think part of this challenge is generational. The Millennials don’t seem to have the same kinds of issues around transparency that we older ones do. I’m either a late Boomer or a Gen X, depending on whose dates you use. I recognize the tools you mentioned, so I’m sure we are in the same ballpark.

    I completely get that knee-jerk reaction because I have it myself from time to time. When I recognize I’m in the “I’m picking up my marbles and going home” mode, I realize it’s usually time for a heart to heart with myself, and maybe a good cry as well. As in real life, everyone doesn’t come to the social media game with the same set of rules. Every time I wish the world around me was different, I remember the Gandhi quote that says we must be the change we want to see in the world, and I go back to focusing on things I can control. I can be real, I can apologize, I can tell people what I feel, I can say words that I think will be comforting… but they decide how they want to take me. It’s hard to be the kind of person I want to be, and there are plenty of bruises along the way. I can tell from you post that you have a similar heart for people and the world and yourself. As tough as it gets, I would encourage you not to self censor. Be who you are, let the chips fall where they may. (Amazing how brave I can be for someone else, eh?)

    Having said all of that, I must also confess that I have not 1, not 2, but 4 secret blogs that have no link to me and completely hide my identity. I needed a place where I could process things, and each has a different subject. I see these as monologues, and haven’t allowed comments. Recently, as part of my breaking out strategy, I opened them to comments. So far, no one has commented. I know from the stats that people read these, and I don’t know if I’m disappointed or relieved not to have comments. I also use a handle instead of my name on Twitter, but am thinking about changing that as well.

    I’m struggling to find a way to be myself and provide myself with some security without giving up part of myself. I think a lot of us are working this through. I suspect that there are no standard answers, and that the balance we find will need ongoing adjustments. I want to really acknowledge you for posting this and opening this discussion. I feel like I’m finding my way through this, and am confident that I will find my balance. I wish for you the same thing.


  4. October 3, 2008 7:07 pm

    most of what I want to say in response to this I’d rather talk about on the show tonight…

    I must say though that I’m a lot like your wife in that I vent and let everything out so I don’t have to explode.


  5. Andrej permalink
    October 7, 2008 12:59 pm

    In response to post #3, I would think that in some cases it is necessary to be safe than authentic. That does sound dishonest, but maybe I’ll explain myself better as I write along. When it comes down to it I think there are obviously some things that are need-to-know. Editing onself in public is not denying authenticity. Its my belief that people can still get a very good idea of who a person is without knowing everything.

    I also think that blogging has placed many people in a position that requires them to think of what they consider “postable” or not. That in itself can cause them to question whether or they are being authentic or not. I know that this has been the case for me. I’m still getting used to blogging and figuring out my voice. Along with that comes figuring out content.

    Hopefully I’ve read into all of this correctly. For what its worth, I hope this sheds some light on questions some may have.



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